Northern Lights in the classroom

Sep 01, 2010
Dr Jim Wild with the "Aurora in a box"

A new model created by Lancaster University space scientist Dr Jim Wild is bringing the experience of the Northern Lights into the classroom.

The “Aurora in a box” which recreates the physics involved in the creation of the or Aurora Borealis, will be used to demonstrate how electrically charged particles in the atmosphere create the spectacle seen at the earth’s poles.

Dr Wild, a Physicist studying the space environment and the links between the Sun, the Earth and other planets, was awarded a grant from Research Councils UK to create theoutreach tool to explain the research to non-specialist audiences.

“The science of the aurora is basically the same as that of a neon lamp, like any found in shops and advertising displays”.

“I really like the idea that something really familiar, and something that seems so magical, are exactly the same physics”

Auroras are linked to the , a flow of ions and electrons continuously flowing outward from the Sun. The Earth's magnetic field traps these particles, most of which travel toward the poles where they are accelerated towards the Earth. Collisions between these particles, and atmospheric atoms and molecules, causes energy releases in the form of streams or arches of coloured light.

The “Aurora in a box” consists of glass tubes full of gas through which electrons move, causing the gas to fluoresce exactly as it does at the Earth’s poles.

Dr Wild uses the model to help him explain his research to children in schools, at university events and at national science events such as National Science and Engineering Week’s Big Bang event in Manchester last year.

Research into what causes auroras has many implications.

“For a start it’s just really interesting science, but it also has very practical uses,” says Dr Wild.

“We use a lot of technology in space, like communications and positioning satellites, and those satellites are sometimes outside the protection of the Earth’s magnetic field. They’re therefore more vulnerable to changes in space weather and can be damaged or have their services disrupted. Being able to predict this would be very useful.”

Explore further: Budget cuts are harder if people know the benefits of research

Related Stories

NASA Satellites Discover What Powers Northern Lights

Jul 24, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers using a fleet of five NASA satellites have discovered that explosions of magnetic energy a third of the way to the moon power substorms that cause sudden brightenings and rapid movements of the ...

Chandra probes high-voltage auroras on Jupiter

Mar 02, 2005

Scientists have obtained new insight into the unique power source for many of Jupiter's auroras, the most spectacular and active auroras in the Solar System. Extended monitoring of the giant planet with NASA's ...

Recommended for you

Heinz Awards honors six for solving critical human issues

Apr 23, 2015

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher who has developed artificial human "microlivers" that can safely test the toxicity of drugs without endangering lives is one of six people chosen to receive Heinz Awards.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.